Nottinghamshire v Lancashire, Trent Bridge, 3rd day

Smith's heroics too late for Lancashire

George Dobell

April 8, 2014

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Lancashire 144 and 7 for 1 need another 342 to beat Nottinghamshire 272 and 220


Tom Smith was in the wickets against Worcestershire, Worcestershire v Lancashire, New Road, August 31 2011
Tom Smith's effort with bat and ball has sustained Lancashire at Trent Bridge © PA Photos
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If Lancashire do go on to save - or even win - this game, they will owe a great deal of their success to Tom Smith.

Smith not only top-scored with the bat to help his side avoid the follow-on, but also claimed a five-wicket haul to precipitate a remarkable collapse in Nottinghamshire second innings. It was his first five-wicket innings in first-class cricket since August 2010 and only the third of his career.

Unfortunately for Smith, it will surely make no difference. Lancashire's target of 349 to win in a minimum of 105 overs would be testing in any conditions. On an early-season pitch that continues to provide disproportionate assistance to the seamers, it will require something approaching a miracle.

The pitch has eased, though, and is becoming ever slower so a draw should not be completely out of the question. Luis Reece's departure five minutes from stumps, playing on as he attempted a lavish pull, was hardly the ideal start.

The Smith-inspired collapse was the most dramatic episode of a day on which 15 wickets fell. Nottinghamshire lost their last seven wickets for just 32 runs including a spell of six wickets for 14 runs in 46 deliveries. Smith, gaining sharp movement off the seam, claimed 5-11 in his final spell including Michael Lumb, edging a perfect delivery that forced a stroke and moved away sharply, and Alex Hales, who left one which nipped back to hit his off stump.

By then, though, it was probably too late for Lancashire. The damage inflicted by the debacle of their first innings was too great and any hope they had of keeping their eventual target to manageable proportions was ended by Riki Wessels' impressively fluent innings.

Wessles, feasting on an attack that dropped short far too often for the conditions, struck 10 fours and two sixes - both slog-sweeps off Simon Kerrigan - to hammer a nail in Lancashire's hopes. He also punished a weary-looking Anderson, thrashing him through the covers and clipping him through mid-wicket. Anderson eventually produced a yorker to end Wessles' innings, but by then the game was all but gone.

Anderson's mood was not improved when Kabir Ali, who had earlier bowled with impressive skill, missed a straightforward chance at mid-on, simply failing to lay a hand on a mis-hit from Wessles, who had 85 at the time.

It could have been worse for Lancashire. Had Kabir been caught at first slip by Wessles in the morning session, they would have been 84-8 in their first innings and facing the prospect of the follow-on. As it was, Smith averted that possibility with a patient innings - it took him 24 balls to get off the mark - and, after adding 25 for the eighth-wicket with Kbair, added another 38 for the ninth with Kerrigan. It took the return of Luke Fletcher, strangely over-looked until the 26th over of the day, to end the resistance. Fletcher struck with his first two deliveries to polish off the innings.

Lancashire might also reflect that they erred tactically, too. Under the amended playing conditions this year, the home county decide whether to make the heavy roller available in the game and each side can then utilise it for a maximum of seven minutes once in the match. Nottinghamshire made it available but, by not utilising it ahead of their first innings, Lancashire sentenced themselves to batting on a pitch that had started damp and therefore become indented in Nottinghamshire's first innings.

Lancashire's logic was that rain would curtail play on the second day and they did not want to waste the use of the roller. But, as it happened, the 33.2 overs they faced was enough to see their top six dismissed and set the tone for the game. Nottinghamshire, by contract, used the heavy roller ahead of their second innings and saw the batting conditions improve markedly. Lancashire are highly likely to use it ahead of the final day, but the damage is surely already done.

Still, they insist they are looking to provide opportunities for their batsmen and the final day of this game - perhaps Peter Moores' final day of Championship cricket as Lancashire coach - certainly offers one. The recklessness shown by Reece, the latest in a long-line of opening batsman that has included Smith and, improbably though it sounds, Stephen Parry (against Durham in 2009), suggests that the search for a reliable top-order batsman goes on.

If the final day of this game goes the way of Nottinghamshire, Lancashire may have to reconsider their admirable but self-defeating attitude towards an overseas player.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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